It would be so easy to write Tokyo Jungle off as a novelty, but to dismiss the game would be an egregious error. Underneath the almost laughable leadoff, taking the role of a Pomeranian conquering the wild, is a deep, challenging and unique experience that is both charming and punishingly difficult at the same time. I say with full recognition of how ludicrous this will sound, but I make one badass toy dog.
Tokyo Jungle is a game about survival, but not in the way we typically think about it. That term has become almost inextricably linked with the word “horror,” conjuring images of zombies, scarce ammo and green herbs. OK, you will find the last one in Crispy’s title, but it will only matter if you’re playing as a grazer species.
The game offers two modes: survival and story. You’re likely to spend most of your time in the former, as chapters in the latter are only unlocked as you progress your lineage with the X different species available. At the outset of the game, once you complete the tutorial, you’ll be able to choose from a Pomeranian and a Sika Deer. Each creature is rated in a number of categories: speed, strength, attack, defense, hunting and stamina.
The premise and the mechanics of the game are simple. Humanity has suddenly departed the Earth, and you must survive, defend your territory, mate and reproduce… and then do it all again as the next generation. The first step each time you play will be to mark your territory. In each of the regions, there are flags where you’ll need to leave your scent. Once you’ve done so at each designated point, you can use the nest in that area. Each animal you play will be male, and in order to procreate, you’ll need to attract a female in one of three classes: desperate, average and prime. In order to attract more desirable companions, you’ll need to increase your rank from Rookie to Veteran to Boss. This is solely related to the amount you eat (how successful a hunter or gatherer you are).
Mates are designated by black hearts, pink hearts and pink hearts with sparkles coinciding with the three different levels. Attracting a Prime mate will confer the greatest bonuses to progeny, with Desperate mates giving you nothing but fleas. Unfortunately, attracting a mate is handled automatically. Wander too close to a “desperate” member of the opposite sex and you’re stuck with him/her. I would have preferred a button press to avoid accidentally getting fleas when you could be getting something that will benefit your lineage.
On paper, the concept seems simple, but in execution, survival can be brutal. Food is scarce, especially when playing as a grazing animal. If you happen to walk to the wrong part of Tokyo when acid rain starts falling and smog fills the streets, you’ll find your toxicity rising, hunger meter dropping and even the food you do find offering as much harm as good. The game ramps up the challenge in big ways the longer you survive.
Thankfully, you’ll find gifts littered about the city containing written clues as to the fate of humanity, which are certainly interesting, but not nearly as welcome as a large bottle of clean water (which clears toxicity) or food. These can be stored and used at will, but should you perish, your inventory of consumable items is wiped clean.
If Tokyo Jungle is starting to sound like a roguelike, it’s because it functions very much like one. Instead of leveling up and keeping those increased statistics, each new generation comes with bonuses that increase attack, life, stamina and the all-important hunger meter. Given that placement of animals and plants is completely random each time, what was once a rabbit-filled paradise could suddenly turn into a hyena den. Sure, predators can eat them both, but you’re going to have to work a lot harder to hide in the brush, stalk your prey and get that one-bite clean kill.
Should you find yourself out in the open, all is not lost. You can attack with your paws and claws to whittle down your foe’s health. They will do the same, though. Additionally, you are susceptible to one-hit kills. You’ll get ample warning about needing to flick the right stick to evade, and should you manage to do so, your enemy will be exposed to a critical neck-bite.
Thankfully, the game has an interesting mechanism built in for “extra lives.” Assuming you’re playing as a species that has multiple young at once, you’ll travel in a pack. Should the animal you are controlling die, you’ll take over a packmate. These aren’t simply cosmetic when they are following you. You can command them to fight for you or, if you are playing as a grazer, run interference so you can get far enough away to hide in the grass.
When all is said and done, and your family line meets its end (my current best is six generations over 40 years as a Sika Deer), you’ll receive a score based on calories consumed, years lived, how many new generations you’ve spawned and more. These are thrown on up on the leaderboard after multiplied by that species’ degree of difficulty multiplier. One important way to raise your score (and unlock new animals to control) is by completing in-game challenges.
These will pop up from time to time and vary based on what kind of creature you are playing as. Often, you will be tasked at finding a boss animal in a specific area of the city. Touch them, and you’ll be able to unlock them for use, provided you have accumulated enough points to spend. Some even have multiple appearances, each of which must be unlocked separately. These challenges keep things very interesting and give you something to do while you are foraging for food. They also pulled me back in each time I gained access to a new animal since they were so varied (and that’s the only way I’ve found to unlock new story chapters).
Tokyo Jungle has an addictive quality. Knowing that my stats due to procreation carried over, as did equipment like “kitty paws” that increase base stats, softened the blow of meeting my end at the jaws of a tiger that randomly popped up. There is something awe-inspiring of wandering around a seemingly-safe area and finding a pride of lions or a crocodile. I never felt frustrated by losing, especially when I was simply outmatched. It happens in nature, and it definitely occurs frequently in Tokyo Jungle.
There is a local multiplayer mode, but it’s best attribute is giving teams medicine to bring allies back from the dead. You can choose any two animals, even those that would naturally be predator and prey, and take on the rest of the animal kingdom. Oddly, there is no split-screen and players are not restricted to a single screen. Rather, when player two drifts too far away, he/she will respawn close to player one. It’s a bit clunky, and honestly not a lot of fun.
The presentation of Tokyo Jungle is well-designed. The map and challenges help identify what’s going on the world and where you should be migrating. My biggest gripe about the game is the day-night cycle. Each year takes about five minutes of game time, so having days and nights feels strange. Worse, the evening hours are too dark, especially when navigating the maze-like rooftops of Shibuya Woods. Additionally, there is a confusion created in the typically well-delivered information. The words “survive” and “live” are used interchangeably, and given the nature of reproduction, it seems odd that two would be equated. My family line should “survive.” My individual generation should “live.” I learned this the hard way when failing a challenge that expired after I’d “lived” for a number of years.
The music provides an odd juxtaposition to the dog-eat-everything proceedings. The driving beats and thumping base are certainly better than having nothing at all, providing an arcade-like feel to the brutal act of hunting, killing and eating. Also, I find it funny that every animal howls like a dog when mating. I know my college roommate did, but I had no idea it was so pervasive throughout the animal kingdom.
Tokyo Jungle takes classic roguelike mechanics and puts a fascinating premise and strong combat mechanics over top. There is an absurd amount of content here that amounts to dozens of hours of playtime. It’s unfortunate that there are DLC purchases for some of the animals that don’t seem to be unlockable any other way, but even without them, there is a lot to enjoy. The story chapters manage to be touching, despite minimal anthropomorphization of the principal players.
While I was attracted to Tokyo Jungle initially simply for the fact that it was “different” (much in the same way I fell in love with Katamari Damacy), the mechanics present hold up once the novelty has worn off. The tension of surviving in a brutal post-human landscape is ever-present, and it’s hard to match the relief of finding a clean water source when toxicity is causing your health to decline rapidly. While we can never truly know what it is like to be a member of the unregulated animal kingdom, Tokyo Jungle does a truly fine job of creating a believable atmosphere.
Here’s the Rundown:
+ Brilliant premise that provides a unique experience
+ Beneath the novelty is solid gameplay
+ An addictive quality to unlocking and playing as new animals
+ Having a “pack” of extra lives is clever
+ Challenging, but fair
- Day/Night cycle isn’t implemented well
- Information, while typically well-delivered, has some confusing aspects
- Multiplayer is not well-implemented.
8 and 8.5 represent a game that is a good experience overall. While there may be some issues that prevent it from being fantastic, these scores are for games that you feel would easily be worth a purchase.
Tokyo Jungle was developed by Crispy’s and published by Sony Computer Entertainment. It was released on September 25, 2012 at an MSRP of $14.99. A copy was provided by the publisher to RipTen for the purposes of review.